Chapter 7 Tuesday, 0700 hours (7:AM)
In the light of day, releasing the cats no longer seemed such a bright idea. Even Jack had to agree with that assessment. Jack, in addition to his sidearm, now took to carrying a rifle everywhere he went, not an AK-47 but a sleek hunting rifle. He discovered he liked carrying it and the loose carnivores provided an excuse. The other Calfers carried guns now too, especially those on zoo patrol. For fear of cats, they had to patrol in pairs and they were short of manpower as it was. One couldnt take a walk from one building to another, let alone from one habitat area to another, without using one of the zoo's little maintenance carts. These carts which looked as if they were manufactured by Lego, had an enclosed metal cab which afforded protection against the cold, and hopefully against all but the most determined carnivore. Moreover, there seemed to be too few of the carts, since many of them were in use patrolling the zoos perimeter paths. The worst affected by the freed cats, were the night patrollers, some of whom had to patrol areas inaccessible by cart and were on foot. When they came in at the end of their shifts, they were nervous wrecks.
The morning however, was bright, clear, and unusually warm for October. Brian woke early for a stroll around his zoo. In the daylight, he knew he had nothing to fear from the freed nocturnal carnivores, but the mere thought that they were as free as he was, lent spice to his walk.
"It really is my zoo now," thought Brian.
As he passed the Education building, he noticed an upstairs window packed with blue-clad cub scouts looking out. Brian waved to them, but instead of waving back, the scouts pulled back from the window.
"Who can blame them."
Brian walked thoughtfully back to Zoo Central. He was troubled. Here he was fighting for the liberation of animals, and had imprisoned a pack of young scouts. He looked at his watch. It was a half hour until his next broadcast, so he had some time. He found Jack near the TV room cleaning his rifle.
"I'm worried about the kids," said Brian.
"The Cub scouts."
"I'm worried about them too," said Jack, "They're rowdy and undisciplined. I'd like to take a belt to them."
"That's not what I mean. It seems against CALF ideals to cage them up."
Jack laughed. "They're not in cages, but it's an idea."
Joshua came downstairs then, gave a friendly wave, and gestured that they continue. Brian thought he detected a look of fatherly encouragement in Joshua's smile.
Brian turned back to Jack. "Theyre kids," said Brian, "and weve made them captives. Thats not right."
"What do you want to do, release them?" asked Jack.
"Sure. Why not. Let the police handle them," said Brian. "Besides," he went on, "Id hate to think of one of them being eaten by a tiger or something. Anyway, their Cubmaster is probably out there waiting for them. They're from out of town, I think."
Jack thought it a small matter and didnt really care much one way or the other. He had more important things to be concerned about, Operation Zoo security for one thing. Joshua for his part, just remained silent.
"Fine. Its OK with me," said Jack. Joshua shrugged noncommittally.
"Good. Lets send them out after lunch, when the snipers change shifts."
It was agreed.
Brian's second TV broadcast went much better than the first, and he had fleeting thoughts of changing his career plans to spend more time on the other side of the camera. He was in a good mood and decided to spend the time until the noon broadcast by taking another inspection tour around his zoo. He took the back way out of Zoo Center, and decided to head over to the African Plains, and watch his beloved lions. Half way there, he remembered they'd been released. They weren't exhibits anymore.
Brian turned back to Zoo Center. Sure the animals were freed, but he was disappointed that now he couldn't go and look at them, the big cats. Those were the only animals he liked watching.
Brian caught a movement from the corner of his eye. He turned around, and froze. There, not thirty yards away, a sleek cheetah was staring straight at him. Brian gasped and then got a hold of himself. After all, this was a zoo cheetah. Some Arab potentates even have cheetahs for pets. Cheetahs are almost domesticated animals, like dogs.
Brian took a careful step toward the animal. He'd make friends with him. As Brian made his first step, the cheetah bared its teeth and slunk low to the ground. The cheetah started moving very slowly toward the CALF president. Brian froze again. He had seen enough National Geographic TV specials to know that this was the way cheetahs started their attacks. Brian fought down his panic. It was not all that far to the safety of the Education Building. Maybe he could outrun the animal.
"Outrun a cheetah," Brian murmured, "Fat chance."
Then Brian remembered he was wearing a side-arm. That was one of Jack's ideas. He thought all the CALF officers should wear side-arms. It looked cool. Joshua always wore one. Brian thought it a dumb idea, but not anymore.
Brian unholstered the Lugar, and realized he had no idea how to use it. It had just been a clothing accessory until now. His hand was shaking and the cheetah was getting close. Brian knew he had just moments before the cheetah would explode into a full run and leap for his throat. Damn those National Geographic specials. Brian held the weapon with both hands and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. Brian was terrified that the gun might not be loaded, but then he remembered there was a safety latch, or something. He fumbled with the gun, flipping it around, looking for buttons or other mechanisms he could work. Finally he found it, the safety. He flipped the lever off and raised the gun back up, but the cheetah had vanished.
Brian was sweating. Pointing his side-arm in all directions, he made his way to the Education Building. Outside, he looked up and saw a lone face peering down at him from the Cub Scout's window. The boy was shirtless and Brian wondered why. Sure, it was warm, but not that warm. Brian recognized the kid as the one who was not a member of the Pack. He looked lonely. Brian understood what it meant not to belong, and knew what it was to be lonely. Brian thought back. He was an only-child. Growing up, he'd always wanted a brother or sister, or a father for that matter.
Brian smiled up at the boy and then realized he was still holding the fire-arm. For some reason, that embarrassed him. Brian thrust the gun back in it's holster and walked on back to Zoo Center. He felt guilty, like a murderer. He hadn't shot that cheetah, but he would have.